How to Have a Long-Distance Relationship With Your Child

Being closer to your children is not a matter of distance

A long-distance relationship between a parent and their child could result from a parent stationed abroad, incarcerated in prison, or quarantined during a pandemic.

In many cases, a long-distance relationship was the consequence of the parent's divorce or separation.

For instance, the child relocated with the custodial parent following a move away case, or the abused parent fled domestic violence with the child.

A long-distance relationship between a parent and child that lacks communication and intimacy could cause mutual suffering.

Assuming the situation does not involve abuse, here are tips on how you could sustain a fulfilling relationship with your child no matter the distance.

Maintain a Schedule

Graphic of calendar

As a parent, you should make every moment with your child count.

But, as an adult, you know life sometimes gets in the way of you doing that.

Reduce stress and room for chaos by committing to a schedule with the following tips:

  • Set reminders so that you never disappoint your child by missing a date.
  • Share an online calendar so everyone has advanced notice of cancelations or changes.
  • If possible, have open communication with the other adults involved to ensure your child engages with you.
  • Avoid distractions by training yourself to give your undivided attention to one task at a time.

Utilize Many Different Channels of Communication

In 2011, only 35% of adults in the U.S. owned smartphones.

Today, over half of American children own a smartphone by the time they're 11 years old.

The rise in smartphones and other technologies facilitates long-distance communication now more than ever.

Parents and children have a variety of options to stay connected around the world, such as:

  • Calling one another.
  • Video messaging, such as through FaceTime or Skype.
  • Interactive text messaging, such as iMessage or WhatsApp.
  • Instant messaging over social media, such as Instagram or Facebook messenger.
  • Sending one another letters through e-mail or traditional mail.
Graphic of a video call on phone

Having several offline and online communication methods available will help you maintain your plans if unexpected circumstances occur.

Imagine the electricity goes out two minutes before you planned to play an online computer game with your child.

In this situation, you could quickly call your child, explain the change of plans, and connect over the phone.

Additionally, having several methods of communication could prevent monotony and accommodate your child's mood.

For instance, your child may prefer to text over FaceTime when they are feeling sick.

Offer Small Gestures

Dr. Maya Angelou did not speak for five years after a traumatic event.

One day, Bertha Flowers shared books with Angelou and challenged her to read poetry out loud.

At age 13, she felt safe enough to speak again and eventually became one of the most famous poets in history.

Flowers' small gestures helped a child to heal and to actualize her full potential.

Research found that youth aggression and other behavioral issues often stem from a lack of strong adult connections.

Your small gestures could have a significant impact on your child's self-esteem and willingness to bond.

Small gestures could include hanging up your child's artwork, decorating your home with photos of your child, or sending your child a keepsake that makes your absence a little less challenging.

Walk the Walk

"Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?"

Brené Brown posed this question in her best-selling book, Daring Greatly.

Brown emphasized that the way parents carry themselves and engage with the world are strong predictors of how their children will fare in life.

Parents should model the compassion, honesty, and responsibility they want to see in their kids.

Keep this in mind whenever you make a promise with your child or share custody with another parent.

Perfect parenting is not required or even a possibility. Brown recognizes that parents cannot give their children what they do not have.

For instance, a parent going through a personal struggle may be unable to provide their child emotional support.

This parent could, however, still provide financial support.

In other words, a parent should always provide and engage with their child in some capacity.

Make Time

Graphic of father and son

Approximately 85.8% of men and 66.5% of women work more than 40 hours per week.

Most adults juggle a demanding work schedule with errands, household maintenance, commuting, and other responsibilities.

A child won't fully understand why overtime pay or a job interview needed to come before a Skype date.

They will only know that mommy or daddy did not spend time with them.

The following tips could help you stick to the plans you make with your child:

  • Be efficient at your job to decrease the likelihood of bringing work home.
  • Minimize committing to activities or events that are of little value to your life.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene to have the energy to balance your responsibilities.
  • Ask for assistance when possible to lighten your workload.
  • Make plans with your child in advance to schedule all other events around parenting.

Consider Distance in Legal Disputes

The United Nations World Tourism Organization stated, "Never before in history has international travel been restricted in such an extreme manner."

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, over 200 countries and nations enforced measures to restrict or prevent people from entering.

The pandemic effectively separated countless families and deepened tensions between parents already struggling to co-parent.

A pandemic is one of many unique circumstances involving distance that could lead a parent to request child custody modifications.

If this sounds familiar, you could benefit from consulting with a family law attorney to learn what legal options you have to change custody, visitation, or both.

For instance, you might ask an attorney, "What child custody and parenting plan makes sense for my case based on everything I told you?"

An attorney could also help you understand what rights you have from your current or previous relationship with the other parent.

Collaborate with Other Adults in the Child's Life

In 2015, Charlie Sheen tweeted that ex-wife Denise Richardson was the "worst mom alive."

The following year Richardson sued Sheen and then filed for child support in 2019.

Fast forward to 2020, Richardson described co-parenting with Sheen as "great" and refused to talk badly about him.

Charlie and Denise demonstrate that everyone wins when exes make peace for the sake of their children.

For instance, amicably co-parenting when you share joint physical custody could make scheduling easier.

Co-parenting requires a degree of cooperation which is not always possible in high-conflict cases that involve at least one narcissist, borderline, or hostile parent.

Parallel parenting is an alternative to traditional co-parenting in high-conflict cases.

A parallel parenting plan minimizes communication, allows each parent to control their parenting responsibilities, and prevents a conflict in front of the children.

Parents that parallel parent could communicate through co-parenting platforms like Our Family Wizard or a court-appointed parenting coordinator or special master.

Be Compassionate

Parental separation is included on the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) questionnaire because experts recognize this event as one of the leading causes of trauma in children.

Experiencing multiple ACEs is linked to an increased risk of drug abuse, suicide, and heart disease.

Parental separation often triggers feelings of abandonment and uncertainty for children and weakens their sense of security.

Signs that your divorce or separation is stressing out your child include mood swings, isolation, declining grades, or changes in appetite.

Your child is trying their best to understand their parents' decisions and make sense of their changing environment. Remember this when your child's behavior frustrates you.

Protect your child at all costs from being a casualty between two parents at war or from feeling unsafe in their own family.

Whether across town or the globe, your child needs to feel your presence, receive your love, and enjoy your attention.